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The asymmetry of war examined

All wars are terrible, with some much more unjust than others. Knowing how to examine the philosophical and legal issues will help pinpoint accountability and hopefully discourage the prospect of war.
The asymmetry of war examined
New technologies and shifting geopolitical realities are changing the face of war, from drones and non-lethal weapons to guerrilla fighting and global terrorism. This leads to asymmetrical warfare, where one opponent resorts to non-conventional means or strategies to gain advantage over the other.

The EU-funded TAW (A theory of asymmetrical warfare: Normative, legal, and conceptual issues) project looked at the philosophical and legal issues related to these new armed conflicts. It investigated issues such as permissible lethal force, proportionality, necessity, and prospect of success, along with the dynamics among the different factors.

TAW found that the reasonable prospect of success is not an independent requirement for permissible use of military force, but related to the analysis of proportionality. It differentiated between the likelihood of individuals being killed and the permission to kill, looking at war theory and justification from a different angle.

Examining asymmetric technologies such as drones, cyberweapons and non-lethal weapons, the project underlined two key sets of considerations. These were the impact of these technologies on the assessment of the proportionality of an attack and the connection between prospect of success and proportionality.

The team also looked at if rank-and-file combatants in an unjust war should be prosecuted for war crimes, distinguishing between those fighting criminal wars from those fighting morally abhorrent wars. Another avenue of research focused on whether terrorism should be considered an international, a transnational or a domestic offence.

Researchers also examined the ethics of military occupation and the rights of an occupying power, arguing in favour of the moral equality of just and unjust occupants. Lastly, TAW studied the relationship between legal considerations, normative or philosophical principles, and empirical research on war and its effects, with observations that lawyers, philosophers and social scientists would find useful.

Many of these arguments can bring us to judge a war from a different and perhaps more balanced perspective, giving rise to new implications and concerns for policymakers. A deeper understanding of war may not only help in redefining war theory, but hopefully also in reducing the possibility.

Related information


War, drones, asymmetrical warfare, TAW, military
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